Catholic Development of Doctrine: A Defense: Part III

Catholic Development of Doctrine: A Defense: Part III June 2, 2020

vs. Jason Engwer (Emphasis on the Canon of the Bible & Church Infallibility)

[originally posted on my blog on 1-14-10]

***

Part One

Part Two

Part Four

I will be replying to anti-Catholic Protestant Jason Engwer’s article, “The Canon And Church Infallibility” (9-18-08). His words will be in blue.

***

10. We’re not living in the context of somebody like Papias or Irenaeus, much as we aren’t living in the context of the Old Testament patriarchs or a contemporary of Moses or Jeremiah.

No kidding. But that is why we can study history, isn’t it?: to get our psyches wrapped around a particular time period, just as biblical exegesis attempts to think along with the Bible writer we are studying.

The churches at the time of Papias or at the time of Irenaeus had some advantages that we don’t have today.

Yes: no Protestants to disagree with everything under the sun and to think in heretofore unknown (and often anti-biblical) categories, and viciously self-contradicting ways! But there were a lot of heretics running around. One had to cling to Rome in order to know for sure what was orthodox and what wasn’t. That was the gold standard. Rome faithfully kept the faith of the Bible and the apostles.

The evidential value of consulting a bishop of Rome in the second century doesn’t lead us to the conclusion that there’s just as much evidential value, or any, in consulting a Pope today.

Back to this nonsense again. Everything goes back to the Bible. If we can ground a doctrine in the Bible, then we can know it is true on those grounds. If there is such a thing as priests, bishops, and popes, and hierarchical ecclesiological structure in Scripture (as there assuredly are), then those things are worthy of belief as well, as part of the apostolic deposit. If there is such a thing as the Church and the indefectibility of that Church (as there assuredly are), then we can certainly believe that this extends through history.

How do we do that? By following the line of apostolic succession and determining what was believed everywhere and by all, and the true line of development of doctrine. If an office was valid in the New Testament, then it was intended for the Church perpetually, not just for New Testament times. Thus, the biblical argument for papal succession follows straightforwardly, as a matter of practical common sense. There are also abundant biblical analogies and models for infallibility and apostolic succession.

I’ve said before that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn’t adhere to sola scriptura.

I wouldn’t either, if I had read the Bible and had read both Catholic and Protestant beliefs regarding the rule of faith. There is no contest whatever as to which rule of faith is more in conformity with the Bible (and Church history).

But we aren’t in his position. We’re in a much different position. If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn’t follow that it couldn’t be appropriate later, under different circumstances.

This is extremely interesting, since Jason seems to be conceding (subtly, in his use of hypothetical illustration) that sola Scriptura is very difficult to document in the fathers (as indeed is the case: I proved it again and again in my own excruciatingly long debate with him on that very topic). And he is employing the typical Protestant theological relativism or doctrinal minimalism. I fully agree with what Nick wrote on my blog; about this comment of Jason’s (and I thank him for highlighting a very important thing):

In other words, by his own admission, sola Scriptura is relative. He wouldn’t have ‘seen enough’ in Scripture way back then in Papias’ time to embrace it . . . but somehow sola Scriptura becomes “appropriate” later on.

The great irony here, in addition to this relativism, is the huge implication that this carries for the ostensible Protestant project to co-opt the Church fathers and make them out to be Protestant. Traditionally (oops: sorry for the bad word there), in the heady, revolutionary days of the 16th century, that was the goal. The very word “reformer” means that the intention was to return a thing to what it was formerly: not to overthrow it. That was the Protestant myth, that died a slow death in many of us: such true believers were we as Protestants.

John Calvin always sought to demonstrate that the fathers (above all, St. Augustine) agreed with his positions, over against the Catholic ones. I know this, because I have just completed a critique of Book IV of his Institutes. Luther and Lutherans have sought to do the same thing: though not without much ambiguity. That’s because historic Protestantism still believed in truth all down the line, and each brand thought that it had it. What was a given then: unthinkable to even question, is now a mere option.

That was historic, “magisterial Reformational” Protestantism. But (to think according to Jason’s mentality for a moment), that was then, and this is now. After having expended tons of energy and hours sophistically defending Protestantism and revising history to make it appear that it is not fatal to Protestant claims (which is a heroic feat: to engage at length in such a profoundly desperate cause), now, alas, Jason comes to his senses and jumps on the bandwagon of fashionable Protestant minimalism, relativism, and the fetish for uncertainty. He resides, after all, in the “much different position” of the 21st century. He knows better than those old fuddy-duds 1500 years ago. What do they know, anyway?

So now he “gets” it. Assuming that sola Scriptura was “widely or universally rejected early on” (as in fact it was), it doesn’t matter, you see, because (hallelujah!) it can be “appropriate later, under different circumstances.” Why are we having this discussion at all, then, if it doesn’t matter a hill of beans what the fathers en masse thought? The rule of faith is as variable as the weather and President Obama’s latest opinion on war policy.

Jason has arrived. It took a while, but better late than never. He now knows that all the historical argumentation is ultimately just a game: to make Catholics look like dumbbells and to bolster up the hopeless anti-Catholic fringe position within Protestantism. If cornered, he can appeal to the oh-so-cool fetish of uncertainty and nuanced relativistic theology and ecclesiology. That’s the cure-all. It’s the timeworn Protestant slippery fish / moving target routine (like the ducks at a carnival sideshow), in a clever new guise. It’s also a curious mix of fundamentalism and postmodernist mush.

Ultimately, then, he shows himself to be a-historical in the final analysis (and Protestantism so often is, by its very origins and fundamental nature, though many individual Protestants seek to learn history and incorporate it in their worldview). It’s a classic case. How much these four sentences of his reveal! They’re like a suicide bomb strapped to his entire argument. It just went up in smoke. But it has far more problems than just this relativistic foolishness.

11. The ecumenical councils are the most popularly accepted examples of an exercise of alleged church infallibility. Yet, there have been many disagreements, and continue to be many, regarding which councils are ecumenical and which portions of the ecumenical councils are to be accepted.

Like what? Again, we have mere vague statements. Does anyone think this sort of method of “amateur apologist sez whatever slogan comes into his head and expects it to be accepted as Gospel Truth” is impressive?

Councils like Nicaea and First Constantinople helped in sorting through some controversial issues, and those councils were eventually widely accepted, but they were also widely rejected for a while.

By whom? And how does that disprove that they were what they were, anyway, because some folks didn’t accept them?

While heretics and the many branches of what we call orthodoxy widely agreed about scripture, there was no comparable agreement about a system of church infallibility. The Arians would reject anti-Arian councils, and the anti-Arians would reject Arian councils, but neither side would reject the gospel of Matthew or Paul’s epistle to the Romans when such a document was cited against that side’s position.

Oh, this is brilliant. So because people whom we all agree were heretics rejected orthodox councils, and because orthodox Catholicism rejected heretical councils, this supposedly proves something because both sides accepted Matthew’s authenticity as inspired Scripture? But in the same period we see all kinds of anomalies in views of the canon that I noted last time: even the NT canon. It’s another rhetorical dead-end for Jason.

It seems that Christians,

Catholics are now Christians??!! Progress!

heretics, and those who didn’t even profess to be Christians accepted the foundational role of scripture in Christianity while widespread disputes over church authority went on for centuries and continue to this day.

One reason for that, I submit, is that a book can be molded in many different ways: often according to the whims of the molder, whereas live, institutional authority of human beings entails a direct accountability that will always be rejected by significant numbers. This proves nothing, however, as to the truth or falsity of either thing. It’s quite amusing for a Protestant to even quibble about real or alleged differences in the early Church on ecclesiology, when one looks at what Protestantism did to same:

1) There was little disagreement among the fathers and early Church on apostolic succession, but Protestantism either ditched that or completely redefined it.

2) There was little disagreement among the fathers and early Church on binding apostolic tradition, but Protestantism ditched that and opted for sola Scriptura, which excludes it.

3) There was little disagreement among the fathers and early Church on priests, who presided over the Eucharist, where Jesus was truly, substantially present, but Protestantism ditched all that.

4) There was little disagreement among the fathers and early Church on bishops, who presided over regions, but Protestantism (save Anglicanism and a minority faction of Lutheranism and a few other redefined instances) ditched all that.

5) There was little disagreement among the fathers and early Church on the necessity of both local and ecumenical councils, but Protestantism ditched all that.

Etc., etc. In other words, the massive, revolutionary changes entailed in Protestantism are many times more momentous than any disagreements that can be found among the fathers or between Orthodox and Catholics. Even the Orthodox will give the historic papacy a preeminence in honor, and the evidence for the office and its importance overall is massive, whereas many Protestants (even still in their creeds to this day) dismiss him as the antichrist. That being the case, the significance of the supposed massive confusion Jason sees in the patristic period is put in its proper perspective. Jason sees a lot of problems there but he is blind to the far greater difficulties along the same lines in Protestantism. Nick on my blog again hit the nail on the head:

What’s unfortunate about Engwer’s approach to the Fathers is that it’s self-destructive, burning down the very edifice which supports him today. Tearing apart the fathers, making them look silly and untrustworthy, only can harm the one claiming to be Christian. Engwer’s approach is much like the Joker’s on The Dark Knight. . . .

The laughable thing was that Jason proceeded throughout as if there weren’t variations in the canon among Fathers (even though giving lip service to the fact). . . . he is at his ‘worst’ when he does this to the Fathers, making them come off as a bunch of individualists promoting all sorts of contradictory doctrines and thus as a whole untrustworthy and childish. Of course, using the typical Protestant stealth tactics, he can call them “Christian” on one hand while affirming they weren’t promoting a true Gospel on the other. . . .

It’s the standard operating procedures of the Reformers: toss out as many accusations as possible, hope some of them draw blood, and leave the Catholic to pick up the smear mess.

A Celsus, an Arius, or an Athanasius will be more concerned with scripture than with any other authority when discussing Christianity.

That was Arius’ method, because it was precisely the heretics who adopted sola Scriptura. Arius agreed with the Protestant rule of faith, and he did so for the same exact reason: if one can’t trace his beliefs back through an unbroken chain of apostolic succession and tradition (Arius, being a denier of the Trinity clearly couldn’t do that), then one must become a-historical and pretend to arrive at one’s heresies by Scripture Alone. Arius did that and his followers today: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians and The Way International, continue to do it. Church history is their enemy. JWs only utilize history in order to engage in wholesale lies about it, such as that Arius’ position was the original one, and trinitarianism was the corrupting innovation.

But Jason misleads his readers yet again by giving false information about St. Athanasius’ position on the rule of faith. He doesn’t accept sola Scriptura or even prima Scriptura, anymore than any other father does. They all reject that, and believe in the three-legged stool of Scripture-Church-Tradition. The evidence is overwhelming once again. I’ve written about St. Athanasius several times in this regard:

*
*

Jason asserts falsehoods with no evidence. We assert truth with great amounts of factual supporting evidence. To the extent that Athanasius supposedly believed in sola Scriptura, just like Protestants do (or closer to them than to Catholics), I myself believe it in exactly the same way. In fact, I got so sick and tired of Protestants playing this game with fathers (even in direct opposition to the consensus of their own historians), that I “proved” that I “believe” it too (!): with many “prooftexts” from my own words through the years.

That doesn’t rule out the existence of some other infallible authority, but it does say something about the level of evidence for one type of authority as compared to another. . . .

All it says is that Jason’s methodology leaves much to be desired.

12. Patristic scholars, as well as other scholars, often refer to inconsistencies between church fathers and within the writings of a single father.

Back to the extreme overemphasis on difference and ignoring of the massive common ground, which is what patristic scholars do. No one is saying these men were a bunch of clones; only in consensus about most Christian doctrines.

A given church father might have held multiple views of what the Christian rule of faith ought to be. Such inconsistency is understandable when we consider the sort of transitional phases of history an individual might live through.

People change their minds. For example, I changed from a nominally religious secularist to evangelical Protestant, and then changed my mind later on to become a Catholic.

Somebody might live part of his life during the apostolic era and part of his life after that era ends. A Christian might see the Council of Nicaea widely rejected at one point in his life, then see it widely accepted later. Etc. People often change their mind on an issue over time, upon further reflection. Augustine, for example, repeatedly acknowledges his own inconsistencies on some issues. Not only should we not assume that there was one rule of faith held by every father, but we also shouldn’t assume that each father held to only one rule of faith throughout his life.

What we assume is what scholars of these issues tell us was the case. We can cite them a million times, but Protestants like Jason will ignore what they say, and the evidence they set forth. The general consensus was to a rule of faith very much like the Catholic rule of faith today, but less developed, as we expect. What we don’t find is proto-Protestantism. Jason seems to think that every time a father mentions Scripture, this proves he is quasi-Protestant or a “real Christian” because he assumes that Protestants are the only ones who truly love and utilize Scripture. So it’s another false premise. I use Scripture in my apologetics as much or more than anyone I know. It’s the overriding theme of my approach. Does that make me a Protestant?

13. We have precedent for trusting a canonical consensus: Jesus and the apostles’ apparent acceptance of the Jewish consensus on the Old Testament canon. That precedent doesn’t rule out extra-Biblical authorities in the New Testament era, but it does add weight to the New Testament canonical consensus, weight that doesn’t exist for an alleged consensus on church infallibility.

He merely repeats the same falsehoods that I have dealt with. What Jesus and the apostles accepted, included the Deuterocanon. Yet Protestants reject that. So much for their “consensus” and accord with the early Church on that issue. The emperor is naked, and I am the one who has to tell him that he is. The Deuterocanon is the elephant in the room or the dark family secret. No one is fooled by this game.

14. We already have good reason to accept the Biblical documents.

Yes; because the Catholic Church gave them her stamp of approval and orthodoxy.

If we continue to have doubts about our rejection of church infallibility, we can continue to think about that issue while continuing to follow scripture at the same time.

We can do all kinds of things; doesn’t make them cogent or true.

We shouldn’t think of these things in an all-or-nothing manner. Life goes on. It’s not as though we have to suspend our more confident conclusions because of some other conclusions we aren’t so confident about.

In other words, no big deal. Minimalism and relativism made necessary by the incessant fragmentation of Protestantism means that we have to care little about many matters of factuality and truth. So let’s resolve to care less about theology and truth, so that we have less conflict in our own minds . . .

There’s good reason why Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, and others agree about the New Testament canon, yet continue to widely disagree about other issues of authority, like church infallibility.

*

And about the canon of the Old Testament . . .

15. The article by A.N.S. Lane that you referenced addresses some of the issues I’ve discussed, but doesn’t address others. He doesn’t demonstrate that the view of authority that he attributes to Irenaeus and Tertullian (and others) was as widely accepted as the Protestant New Testament canon.

He doesn’t have to. Many historians attest to that. And none can be found who claim that the view was akin to sola Scriptura (except pseudo-scholars William Webster and David King, who publish solely with a rinky-dink operation and can’t even tell us what their full credentials are: yet are lauded by many anti-Catholics as the last word in patristics, regarding sola Scriptura).

He doesn’t discuss my point about the necessity of limiting Irenaeus’ comments to only some teachings, not all teachings. (The churches of Irenaeus’ day agreed about many things, but not everything.) He repeatedly, in the two notes you cited (notes 29 and 30), refers to Irenaeus’ comments in Against Heresies 4:26:2,

Why not let our readers see what St. Irenaeus states there?:

Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. (IV, 26, 2)

Sounds like a big disproof of infallibility and Catholicism, doesn’t it? In one sentence, we see binding authority in the Church, apostolic succession, the episcopate (bishops), and infallibility (“certain gift of truth”) — and Scripture isn’t mentioned along with the four other varieties of authority. But everyone knows that Irenaeus was closer in spirit to Jason than he is to myself and Catholics. Who could doubt it?

but he doesn’t discuss Irenaeus’ comments in the sections that follow (4:26:3-5),

Just as Jason didn’t cite or discuss the passage above . . . but I’m here discussing all of the passages together, to give the whole picture.

where he says that Christians are to separate from bishops who don’t meet moral and doctrinal standards.

So Lane has learned the fine art of highly selective presentation and citation? Must have had contact with Jason: one of the masters of that . . .

All humor aside, Jason has, as usual, distorted what St. Irenaeus actually taught here. First of all, he is talking about priests (“presbyters”), not bishops. In the quotation above that I brought out, he contrasts them with the episcopate, which is the bishops. The Roberts-Rambaut Protestant translation (the standard 38-volume Schaff set) even proves this (for strictly English readers) in section 4: “order of priesthood (presbyterii ordine)”. St. Irenaeus says to obey the priests who “possess the succession from the apostles” (in other words, who are orthodox Catholics). He says to separate from heretics or schismatics, who by definition are not Catholics:

But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God— namely, strange doctrines— shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, (IV, 26, 2)

Worship at a Catholic Church: this is some novelty for a Church father to say? In other words, if he were here today, he would tell me to separate from a Protestant pastor if he doesn’t adhere to the succession of unbroken doctrine, and teaches heresy. He would recognize Jason as a heretic insofar as he espouses false doctrine. But he would recognize me as one of his own party: a Catholic.

In IV, 26, 3 he continues to berate these heretics and schismatics who are no Catholics, by referring to them as “Those, however, who are [falsely] believed to be presbyters by many, . . .” (my bracketed comment and italics). He’s not talking about Catholic priests at all, let alone bishops, as Jason claimed. He continues on in IV, 26, 4:

From all such persons, therefore, it behooves us to keep aloof, but to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of priesthood (presbyterii ordine), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others.

Those who are in the line of apostolic succession are the good, orthodox guys; those who don’t are outside the fold. He writes similarly in III, 3, 2: “those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings”. This is standard patristic ecclesiology and rule of faith, and classic Irenaeus. He reiterates that he is talking about (good, faithful) priests in IV, 26, 5: “Such presbyters does the Church nourish, . . .” He concludes that section:

Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.

Truth comes from apostolic succession, not Scripture Alone as the only infallible guide and authority. Note that the good priests “expound the Scriptures to us without danger”: Scripture is understood within the framework of Church and orthodoxy, not by individuals on their own apart from the guidance of any Church: necessary especially when disagreements arise.

So what exactly does Jason think he has proven? What precisely in Against Heresies IV, 26, 3-5 supports his case over against the Catholic one? Once again (it gets tedious to keep having to point this out), context shows that Catholic doctrine is affirmed again and again, and Protestant doctrine opposed. Yet Jason comes away from the passage with the exact opposite opinion: how he thinks so is inexplicable, except if he uses his by-now trademark method of setting up straw men to quixotically smash down (which means, of course, that he has, at a minimum, understood little of the actual meaning of the passage).

He doesn’t discuss the ambiguous nature of Irenaeus’ view of the reliability of the church.

Probably because it wasn’t there. It is because orthodoxy is so well known, that heterodox priests can easily be avoided, at least by one who is in tune to the Church and her teachings, and obedient to her.

If some bishops can depart from the apostolic faith and are to be avoided,

As I have shown, Irenaeus was not referring to bishops in the passage under consideration, but to priests. But if a bishop did become a heretic, then any Catholic would be within his rights to avoid him, too: of course. That’s what Happened to St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom, after all: they were opposed (and/or deposed) by false bishops and had to take recourse with the authoritative popes of orthodox Rome.

then the location of the church led by the Spirit can change from time to time.

It’s where it has always been, and we know where it is: both now and throughout history.

Even if there’s to always be a church led by the Spirit, one that’s always correct on the core teachings Irenaeus mentions,

As there was meant to be, and in fact was and is . . .

the location of that church can keep changing, and it isn’t assured of always being correct in all of its beliefs.

That’s not true. The Catholic Church was always led by the Roman See (Peter and Paul having died in Rome). Anyone in communion with that See was part of it. Assurance of correct belief came from Jesus Himself, in His promise of the Holy Spirit, to guide the Church into all truth, and promises to the first pope, St. Peter, and to general biblical teachings on indefectibility.

As I said earlier, there’s a large gap between the sort of data we find in a source like Irenaeus and the systems of infallibility that are commonly advocated today by groups like Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Right. Funny, how we can’t find that whenever we go to these supposed passages of disproof that Jason suggests. We find it, however, in his bald assertions that have no basis in reality.

16. I wasn’t able to find one of the passages Lane cites in note 29. He cites Against Heresies 1:1:6. The editions of Against Heresies that I’ve consulted have only three sections in chapter 1 of book 1. There is no section 6.

I’ve found that the subsections are sometimes divided up differently. St. Irenaeus in I, 1, 3 makes a terrific comment (perhaps what Lane was referring to) that describes anti-Catholic mistreatment of Scripture (and also of the fathers) — like heretics of old he that was referring to — to a tee:

. . . they proceed when they find anything in the multitude of things contained in the Scriptures which they can adopt and accommodate to their baseless speculations.

In other passages he cites, it’s unclear to me just what portion of the citation he has in mind or just what he thinks it proves.

I know the feeling well.

For example, he may be referring to the phrase “the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us” in Against Heresies 3:5:1, but it’s unclear to me what “permanent among us” means.

He is referring to permanent orthodoxy and/or the indefectibility of the Church. What else could it mean? The Church possesses the apostolic deposit and passes it down. Irenaeus explains that a hundred times all through his writing.

Does Irenaeus mean that there will always be people who will believe the doctrines he discusses?

Yes: Catholics: because the Catholic Church will preserve true orthodox doctrine.

Does he mean that the apostolic tradition, considered in itself, will always be available?

Yes (indefectibility). What is such a mystery? The truth is preserved in the Church permanently. I know it’s tough for a Protestant to accept, but I think it can at least be understood in concept.

The sort of ambiguities I’ve discussed above remain. I don’t fault A.N.S. Lane for outlining the history of Christian beliefs on issues of authority without addressing every detail that could be addressed and without agreeing with every source he cites or claiming to understand what every source meant in detail. But anybody who would cite a source like Lane’s article to justify belief in some sort of infallible church, not just to address the history of Christian beliefs about authority, would have to go into much more detail than Lane does.

Hopefully I’ve provided some of that detail. Whether Jason will adequately address all that I have raised is by no means certain, and unlikely in light of his past behavior in such debates. There is no in-between with him. He either splits before the discussion is anywhere near over, or he tries to wear the opponent down by relentless attrition, obfuscation, non sequitur, and sophistry. This one could go either way.

17. Lane says that he’s discussing Irenaeus and Tertullian for “The first clear attitude to emerge on the relation between Scripture, tradition and the church” (p. 39). But earlier sources don’t have to be as clear in order to have some relevance. The points I’ve made about sources like Papias, Justin Martyr, Hegesippus, and Celsus have to be taken into account, even though such sources don’t discuss these issues in the sort of depth we find in a source like Irenaeus or Tertullian.

I refuted (as far as I am concerned) Jason’s erroneous assertions about St. Justin Martyr in our 2003 debate on the Fathers and sola Scriptura at the CARM discussion forum. It is the first section (IX) of Part II of the debate. It’s no cursory treatment, either, but very in-depth. The entire section (including Jason’s words) runs 4,953 words. He had long since departed from the debate by then, so there was no counter-reply from him. Perhaps he would be so kind to you the reader, to offer one now, after nearly seven years.

Jason will have to make his argument from Papias, whatever it is. J. N. D. Kelly says little about him, but what he does mention is no indication of sola Scriptura:

A practical expression of this attitude was the keen interest taken in the apostles’ personal reminiscences of Christ. Papias, for example, did his best [Cf. Eusebius, hist. eccl. 3, 39, 3 f.] to discover His exact teaching by making inquiries of ‘the elders’.

It was no longer possible to resort, as Papias and earlier writers had done, to personal reminiscences of the apostles. (Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised edition of 1978, 33, 37)

When we go to Eusebius (III, 39) to see what exactly Papias stated, we find an explicit espousal of apostolic succession and authoritative tradition. He even contrasts oral tradition to written (as superior): “I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice” (III, 39, 4). Here is more from Papias or Eusebius describing him:

2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.

3. He says: But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself.

4. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders . . .

7. And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things, we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.

8. But it is fitting to subjoin to the words of Papias which have been quoted, other passages from his works in which he relates some other wonderful events which he claims to have received from tradition.

9. That Philip the apostle dwelt at Hierapolis with his daughters has been already stated. But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead. And he tells another wonderful story of Justus, surnamed Barsabbas: that he drank a deadly poison, and yet, by the grace of the Lord, suffered no harm. . . .

11. The same writer gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten tradition, certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some other more mythical things.. . .

14. Papias gives also in his own work other accounts of the words of the Lord on the authority of Aristion who was mentioned above, and traditions as handed down by the presbyter John; to which we refer those who are fond of learning. But now we must add to the words of his which we have already quoted the tradition which he gives in regard to Mark, the author of the Gospel.

15. This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.

16. But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able. And the same writer uses testimonies from the first Epistle of John and from that of Peter likewise. And he relates another story of a woman, who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. These things we have thought it necessary to observe in addition to what has been already stated.

How in the world does Jason think Papias helps his case? I’d love to see that. He can bring forth what he thinks is relevant from Hegesippus and Celsus. The former is cited several times by Eusebius, providing many interesting traditions, including about James and Jesus’ family. So he obviously feels that he is passing on apostolic tradition in those respects: and his details are extra-scriptural. Celsus was a pagan Greek philosopher, so Jason must feel that he bears witness in an indirect way to something that he thinks is a disproof of Catholic arguments. I highly doubt it, based on the frequent great weakness or irrelevancy of Jason’s arguments that I have interacted with.

18. Lane’s assessment of Papias is misleading in some ways. Though I disagree with Richard Bauckham on some points regarding Papias, his recent assessment in Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006) is far more detailed, documented, and accurate than Lane’s.

I’m not gonna go read all that. I’ve spent enough time on this as it is. Whatever Jason’s argument is involving Papias, can be presented anew, if he thinks it is worthwhile to consider.

19. Lane frequently confirms my assessment of the variety of views of authority that existed among the fathers, as well as my comments about how a single source is sometimes inconsistent with himself. See, for example, pp. 39-42 and notes 29, 41, and 49.

I’ll deal with individual arguments along these lines as they come up.

20. Lane alludes to another point I’ve made in note 29, when he comments that “But it must be remembered that Tertullian became a Montanist” and makes reference to how “the fathers could sit very loose to tradition when it suited them”. In other words, as I noted in my e-mail yesterday, commitment to scripture in the patristic era was more deeply rooted and consistent than commitment to various concepts of the church and extra-Biblical tradition, as is the case in our day.

This is the same vague, general-type argument I’ve already dealt with, repeated yet again.

This concludes the reply to Jason’s post proper. He also has a lot of additional material in the combox, that I will grapple with in Part IV, insofar as there are any new arguments brought forth.

***

Photo credit: St. John Henry Newman, 1844 [public domain]

*
***

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!